|I am delighted to be here today to sign the agreement between UNRWA and our friends in the OFID for the generous donation of $5 million for Nahr El Bared camp in Northern Lebanon.
Nahr El Bared
As most of you know, Nahr El Bared camp was destroyed last year in fighting between the Lebanese Army and an armed group which had insinuated itself into the camp. The OFID donation will cover much of the projected expense of building eight new schools to replace those destroyed in the course of the conflict.
In June of this year, UNRWA and the Lebanese government jointly appealed for $445 million for the reconstruction and recovery of the camp and its environs. $282 million of that is for UNRWA’s part of the operation, which makes it the largest ever reconstruction project since UNRWA was established in 1949.
Our OFID friends were among the first to respond to our appeal for the reconstruction effort, which has so far attracted pledges and donations amounting to $57.8 million. It is worthy of note that 91% of the $57.8 million has been pledged by Western governments. I hope to see soon pledges by Arab governments, which have been widely anticipated and which will be essential if this project is to go ahead as planned.
It will be some time before work on the camp is sufficiently advanced for refugees to start moving back. While a number have returned to some of the less damaged areas adjoining the camp, UNRWA continues to provide provisional succor and shelter to many thousands of displaced and distressed refugees made homeless through no fault of their own. We are providing shelter for 16,000 refugees and emergency food rations to 27,000, as well as other essential services like medical clinics, water and sewage.
The temporary assistance we offer is essential to the well-being of refugees. Yet a significant injection of resources is required to enable UNRWA to raise the quality and standard of care it currently provides. For example, addressing shelter needs with prefabricated houses and rental subsidies leaves much to be desired, and we should not allow a lack of funds to result in poor living conditions for the displaced refugees.
We recently appealed for $43 million to maintain temporary services – up to December 2009 - for those displaced from Nahr El Bared pending reconstruction. This figure reflects the $2.5 million we need every month to provide a bare minimum of services. So far, only the United States has responded with a firm pledge of $4.3 million. No donations have so far been forthcoming from Arab donors. Unless we receive additional contributions by the end of the year, all services to refugees will suffer. We must not allow that to happen.
I take this opportunity to appeal urgently to donors, especially Arab donors, to help us to respond adequately to the human needs of these refugees who have endured more than their fair share of misery and displacement.
In this context, I quote the President of Lebanon, General Michel Sleiman, who, addressing the General Assembly two weeks ago, said that:
OFID cooperation with UNRWA
"Lebanon calls ....on the international community to assume its full responsibilities to provide the necessary financial resources to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) that is in charge of providing humanitarian and livelihood relief to the Palestinian refugees, along with the work done by the Lebanese state in this area, pending a just and final solution to their cause".
OFID’s welcome donation today is by no means the first that it has made to UNRWA. Since 2004, we have been operating together a trust fund called PalFund to which the OFID has contributed $7 million. The objective of PalFund is to provide financial support to the Palestinian private sector in the occupied Palestinian territory through microenterprise loans financed through UNRWA’s Microfinance and Microenterprise Department. OFID’s $7 million makes it the single largest financial sponsor of UNRWA’s microfinance and microenterprise activities in the occupied Palestinian territory. This is a cooperative enterprise for which UNRWA is grateful and in which we can all take pride.
Conditions in the occupied Palestinian Territory
Sadly, the political and economic conditions today in the occupied Palestinian territory constitute an extremely difficult environment for any private sector activities to flourish. In the West Bank, the proliferation of Israeli checkpoints, closures and administrative obstacles make it a nightmare to operate any kind of business. UNRWA finds its operational effectiveness severely hamstrung. In Gaza, the situation is even worse because of the many months of near total closure. The informal cease fire has brought only marginal improvements in access. It remains impossible for most Gaza businesses to resume what were thriving exports and almost as difficult to bring in essential materials. UNRWA itself is unable to obtain sufficient building supplies to continue $93 million of suspended building projects, including the construction of much needed school classrooms and refugee homes. The international community should not allow this situation of uncertainty and misery to persist.
Appeal for funds for defraying fuel costs
Under such conditions, the burden on UNRWA increases. We are running a shortfall of $80 million on our regular budget for this year. Increasing food prices and rising costs – particularly of fuel - have hit us hard. We help the local municipality in Gaza with fuel supplies for garbage disposal lest epidemics break out. We recently received $1 million from the Saudi Committee for the Support of the Palestinian people to put towards fuel costs. As we need much more to help make a difference, I appeal to OPEC countries in particular to consider helping us with the $4 million required to cover fuel costs in the occupied Palestinian territory for 12 months.
In 2009, UNRWA will enter its 60th year – an anniversary to mark if not to celebrate. As one of UNRWA’s key partners, the OPEC Fund will be invited to join us in some of our commemoratory activities.
I appreciate deeply the support you personally, and OFID institutionally, have extended to UNRWA in the last few years. That support, as I hope is clear from my remarks, is needed more than ever in today’s grim circumstances for Palestinian refugees. We look forward to implementing this new agreement and to continuing our cooperation with you.